the existential couple: “the struggle itself”

Yes, I’m listening, I’m listening

I can tell that you are serious

“90-Mile Water Wall,” The National
the existential couple loved each other 
like shouldering a boulder up a mountain

watching it slip away each pause at the top
before descending silently hand-in-hand 

the boulder of course was their love
their burden and their purpose forever

watching them from a distance in the valley
many saw only the burden of a boulder

philosophers and poets understood “the struggle itself”
imploring us to imagine the existential couple happy

the existential couple loved each other 
like shouldering a boulder up a mountain

watching it slip away each pause at the top
before descending silently hand-in-hand 

—P.L. Thomas

did we (this story of me and you)

Just come outside and leave with me

“Day I Die,” The National

did we fall in love
the way we fall asleep

softly and then hard
reaching one for the other
through dreams and tangled covers


this is our true
i will die on you
leaving you blue
our days too few
there’s nothing we can do
this story of me and you


loving is not dreaming
living is not pretending


did we fall in love
the way we fall asleep

softly and then hard
reaching one for the other
through dreams and tangled covers

—P.L. Thomas

we weathered winter (silence & shouting)

The more level they have me/ The more I cannot stand me

“I’ll Still Destroy You,” The National
we weathered winter once again
the sun slipping away later & later
daylight & hope expanding

this winter like all winters
was unlike any winter before
unlike any winter ahead


i imagine late at night
you do not understand
the silence & shouting

everything ascending
into the trees
completely quiet & afraid


how we huddle here
like lovers entwined asleep
hoping with spring

maybe there will be drums
maybe there will be horns
maybe there will be singing

—P.L. Thomas

a human throat (ineffable)

The dead cannot call out to us. All they can do is wait for us to call to them.

A Man, Keiichiro Hirano
i have always disliked xmas
     holidays and bow-wrapped gifts 
     the shortest daylight of the year
     the seasonal depression
     of being always a stranger

i have been losing xmas eve
     social media reminding me
     a crushed cycling helmet from 2016
     a text message xmas morning 2020
     my aunt killed herself the night before
i have not cried for my aunt yet
     our fractured family tensions
     quilted with abrupt texts and messaging
     verbalizing the weight of suicide
     the frailty of just being human
i have pervasive anxiety about that frailty
     the shock of suicide reminds me of Camus
     “that after a while you could get used to anything”
     except of course those who can no longer
     fathom simply waking up one xmas morning
i have so many mostly ineffable words
     minutiae tenuous melancholia existentialism mundane
     this language merry-go-round chiming out of kilter
     her matter-of-fact obituary-life of 192 words
     a 17-word text admitting “box cutter” and “throat”
—P.L. Thomas

proximity (poetry & polar bears)

Candor is incompatible with freedom.

The Naked Eye, Yoko Tawada
i am afraid
neither of poets
nor of polar bears
none of this
really has much
to do with fear
most of this
i think instead
is a matter of proximity
i will never be close
enough to a polar bear
to realize that fragility
i am terrified however
of never again being
mauled by poetry
you see i will never walk
across the snow covered ice
trafficked by polar bears
but i long to be
lured over and over
onto the thin ice of a poem
—P.L. Thomas 

my body is failing me (the bees returned)

What I want
All I really wanted
Just to live my life on high

“I’ve Been High,” R.E.M.

i. <my body is failing me>
my body is failing me aging
in ways only my lover knows
with the bittersweet awareness of intimacy
and then briefly revealed disappointment 
i watch my lover paint her fingernails black
her bare feet with toenails candy apple red
if i took a picture to hold her/us there
as if i could stop time from buzzing by
it still would change nothing about me
a body failing me and her there on the floor
ii. <the bees returned>
the bees returned
a couple weeks into november
a hurricane well to our south
pushing summer-like fall back
over us after a first taste of winter
honey bees and yellow jackets
swarming in the warming air
while thunderstorms surrounded us
overdressed in long sleeves and jackets
iii. <this>
i have told her everything i can so far
into a yellowing life that less remains now
but this:
bee stings swell and ache
in the cusp of fall and winter
as if it were the heart of summer
—P.L. Thomas 

Too many have written

Too many have written
about the dilemma
of gods falling in love
with mere mortals
O the choices!
O the sacrifices!
to be a god smitten
with a mutable human
What bullshit however
since these authors
clearly have themselves
never been in love
O the choices!
O the sacrifices!
to be a human smitten
with another human
We need not imagine
gods falling in love
to understand that weight
of loving singular and deep
To hell with Zeus and Superman!
I am tired of the posturing
while I live in a state of decay
regardless of the pull of my heart
A god’s terrible sacrifice
pales against the skin
of human lovers embracing
in full awareness of Death
Promising despite it all
“I will love you forever”
even though we cannot
give more than our brief lives
—P.L. Thomas
Leda and the Swan by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain)

children, children, black&white

Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright…
“The Tyger,” William Blake
Dost thou know who made thee…
“The Lamb,” William Blake

children, children, black&white
do you know who made you

made you black
made you white
made you neither

children, children, black&white
do you know who loves you

we will see you
hold you tight
our precious children

—P.L. Thomas

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wisteria (like a photograph)

i am so tired
i can barely lift my arms

i struggle to carry myself
from one moment to the next

there are two photographs
of my mother lying in the sun
both dated JUL 71

she is so rail thin
i fear she could not stand
or lift a finger if needed

i am reminded of another photograph
of my sister and me on the floor
dated AUG 68

we are so rail thin
that my grandmother cried
when my mother showed her

we drive past a canopy of wisteria
in the early days of a pandemic spring

i am sure i know the word “wisteria”
because of my mother who loved purple

when i look at photographs now
there is a melancholia of recognition

everyone captured in these moments
wanted to live forever like a photograph

—P.L. Thomas

skinny rose alone 71skinny rose with patsy 71skinny paul and eydie 68

the consequences of gravity (one last flight)

i am losing track of time and space
and 3-D

i am flattening out

here and square on the floor
like a tile

i misread the consequences
of gravity

thinning out to almost nothing

please be careful where you step
and stand

i cannot bear the weight of you
on me

in this grave situation i did not expect
so soon

i have worried myself paper-thin

we will not fill up and drift away
it seems

but wither to almost nothing

if you find the time
and me here on the floor

lift me gently before
folding me into a paper airplane

take me to the tallest building
to send me on one last flight

—P.L. Thomas